RoboCop 3 presents an astounding and completely science fiction conceit: a robot police officer built by a corporation decides to stop serving the interests of law, order and the establishment and throws in with a bunch of homeless multicultural people. Read this line and get it: RoboCop gets shot by a bunch of white supremacist cops, realizes ACAB and gets woke. Then he gets a jetpack and fights robot ninjas.
Obviously, this movie is amazing.
Director Fred Dekker has an interesting career, writing House and House 2, as well as writing and directing The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps. The original script was written by comic book writer and artist Frank Miller*, who also did the previous film in this series. He was so upset by the way his screenplay was treated — comparing it to dogs urinating on a fire hydrant — that he left Hollywood until Sin City.
The biggest change is that Peter Weller decided to make Naked Lunch** and the lead role was played by Robert John Burke, who was the Dust Devil in the movie of the same name, as well as the lead in Thinner. Dan O’Herlihy also didn’t return to lead Omni Consumer Products. And spoiler warning, but Nancy Allen’s Officer Lewis gets killed minutes into the film.
OCP is calling in the bill on Detroit, using Paul McDaggett and his team of Urban Rehabilitators to forcibly move out the residents of Cadillac City, killing anyone who disagrees. The Kanemitsu Corporation also works to move this plan forward, replacing the police with their violent Otomo robots.
When RoboCop and Officer Lewis try to stop the Rehabs from killing civilians, they are gunned down and our hero’s fourth directive forces him to stop defending himself. He’s rescued by the very people he wanted to save, including Nikko, a young robotics genius who has somehow turned ED-209 into a good guy.
As RoboCop is rebuilt, he joins with the underground, led by Dr. Marie Lazarus (Jill Hennessy) and Bertha (CCH Pounder). Seriously, this movie is cast so well, with Rip Torn as the OCP CEO, Mako as the leader of Kanemitsu, Stephen Root and more.
Look, I get it. RoboCop is the best of this series and this one really cuts down on the violence. Dekker admits that the hero’s journey of Officer Murphy/RoboCop was complete by the end of the first movie, but you know, I kind of like the idea that a human in a robot shell who has only been a cop can see the errors of his mindset. He’s no longer acting like Judge Dredd shooting everything in his path. Instead, he has to connect with people beyond his fellow officers.
It also looks pretty good, thanks to director of photography Gary B. Kibbe, who Dekker chose after seeing his work on They Live, which this movie is very similar to, and Prince of Darkness. Dekker called John Carpenter to ask for his blessing to use Kibbe and after telling him the premise, Carpenter joked, “Homeless people taking up arms. That’s real left wing.”
This is way better than it should be and when seen in 2021, it’s an even better film. If Dekker could have gotten to do the things he wanted to do — adding in more Hong Kong style martial arts, an extended jetpack sequence and an ending where Officer Lewis becomes a cyborg, it would have been something people other than me remember.
*Otomo is similar to Miller’s comic Ronin and CCH Pounder’s Bertha Washington is a reference to his character Martha Washington.
**To his credit, Weller met with Dekker and explained why he wasn’t doing the movie in person, which is a pretty stand up way to act.